Lit Up
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Lit Up

Envy in the Water

It was one of those summer days when you forget how green Michigan can get. The weather made every natural sight so succulent you wanted to reach out, grab it and take a bite out of your whole damn visual field.

Normally I take my walks at the mall or on college campuses, but today I’d driven down to the river walk, past the Sia exit, down past Ypsilanti and Belleville and Monroe. The radio was playing Talking Heads. I parked in one of the slanted spots, paid the meter, and started walking.

The sun was on my black t-shirt and I could feel my bald spot getting sunburned but I had my sunglasses on and my teeth were brushed and I had the day off and dammit I was in a good mood.

I started my walk just after the river flows under the bridge out of the city. I passed all the bigger docks and there was the St. Mary’s Mother sitting there docked in the great marina waiting to board up for its usual daily excursion. A smattering of tourists were lined up behind the chain fences, looking for a ride in a twenty year old yacht chugging along the river, giving everyone a chance to snap pictures of the Detroit and Windsor skylines.

I decided my walk was going to take me all the way down to the second marina, which is about twenty minutes to half an hour by foot. I followed the cement walk that winds along the river the whole way. To the left is a five foot drop to the blue-black waters of the river and to the right is either the treeline or a brown metal embankment depending on where you are.

There were little cement docks sticking out into the river, meant for rowboats or paddle boats or whatever, but they were all empty at the moment. The river was wide here, at least a thousand feet or so, and there was a forest on the other side and factories on the other side of that forest, foundries and power plants and shit like that all mixed together in a metal spiderweb of industry.

I was walking along enjoying my day, and I saw two little boys, aged probably three and five, running along behind me. I turned around and saw their mom a few clicks back from us.

I was minding my own business, hands in my pockets, wishing I’d brought my earbuds — the kids were loud and annoying like little kids can be, and they were kind of grubby little things. The three year old had what I hoped were the remnants of a fudgesicle rubbed all over his face and hands. One had brown hair and the other had blonde.

I turned around and I saw the five year old looking into the water, like he could see something really interesting just below the surface. Then he got this big excited smile on his face and he just jumped in, clothes and all. His brother followed him. There was this shitty little loose rope fence thing strung along the sidewalk but that was it as far as a safety barrier. The kids ducked under it and splash.

I kind of blinked at them, not sure if I’d just seen anything. Also not sure if I should get involved. The river was fairly deep here, at least twenty some feet if not more.

“Oh, God, no!” I heard the mom yell, but she didn’t sound particularly panicked, just more like, “Oh, fuck there they go again,” kind of way.

I looked into the water and could see both the boys were sinking fast into the murky depths. Neither of them looked worried or panicked or anything, just kind of standing upright as they sank. They looked up at me as they fell downward, faces as calm as cherubs in a Renaissance painting. It was like their shoes were weighted.

I threw my phone and wallet on the ground and dove in, clothes and all. I’d never done anything like this before. I don’t consider myself a hero and I hate getting involved in other people’s shit, but I did it and I started swimming down to grab the kids but the water pressure or something was keeping me at the surface like a cork.

I’m a decent swimmer and I fought the strange upward current, doing a practiced frog-paddle. I managed to almost get to the boys, and they were still standing straight as though they were on solid land, arms at their sides, looking up at me. I could see their faces through the green rays of sunlight from the surface, and it was so weird because they didn’t look scared or worried or anything. They could’ve been standing on their living room floor getting a lecture or something.

I stretched out my hand to them, bubbles coming out of my mouth and nose, and then I saw her to my right.

There was a fucking woman standing in the water over by where the cement pillars from the nearest dock got all mossy and disappeared into the depths.

The woman was plain, looked like a soccer mom, arms at her sides, same position as the sinking boys. She wore jeans and a long sleeved red shirt and her long grey hair tied up in a ponytail that waved in the water like seaweed and she was fucking smiling at me. There was something fucked up about her face. It was really pale and her chin was too pointed and her cheeks too wide and her teeth were too big and too yellow and her eyes were like wet hard-boiled eggs.

The whole thing creeped me out so much I let myself bob back to the surface and gulped a breath. I took another breath and put my head down again but the water was still actively pushing me back up so I just kind of flopped around on the surface like a bird or something. It was like I was being kept from getting down there by something, and the boys were being sucked down there by something.

The boys were gone now, consumed by the darkness of the deep, and that creepy-ass woman was still just standing there under the dock next to the pillar with her head about three feet from the surface, like she was watching a parade or something. Her face was all lined with middle age. She was smiling like someone who’d just won an award.

By now the kids’ mom and another guy had made it over and the mom was starting to freak cause she couldn’t see the kids anymore. She was taking off her purse and spring jacket, getting ready to dive in.

“Can you see them?” she asked me. “Can you see them? I can’t swim!”

“Shit, we’ve got three skeletons in there already,” said the guy, not helping anyone.

“There’s a woman down here, too,” I told them as I treaded water. “I can’t get down, it’s like the pressure’s keeping me up here.”

“Try fucking harder!” the mom screamed.

The guy nodded at me and reached to help me out. He already had his phone to his ear.

“Come on out,” he said. “Before she gets you, too.”

As I crawled out, dripping and panting, the mom was freaking and darting from one dock to the other, and the guy was on his phone calling the cops.

“There’s a woman,” I said to them both. “She’s right there.”

I pointed. Of course they couldn’t see her but she was still there, distorted by the light-bending water, smiling up at me.

“It’s no good now,” said the guy. “She’s got them.”

The mother jumped in and had the same problem I did. She tried to swim downward but just bobbed back up to the surface. She was yelling the kids’ names.

The authorities arrived not two minutes later. Impressive punctuality.

It was a shitty afternoon. They came and fished the kids out — found them a few hundred yards or so down the river, both dead of course.

The guy who pulled me out and said, “She’s got them,” turned out to be an usher for the St. Mary’s Mother. I never did get his name. He explained that the woman I’d seen was named Envy.

“She drowned here back in ninety-two,” he said. “Old spinster lady from Monroe. Ran a craft shop. Wanted kids but never had them. Couldn’t get married. She was probably mentally ill…witnesses said she just stepped into the water and never came back up. I keep telling them to put up a better barrier or close it or something, but they want to keep it open in case people want to rent the docks for their personal canoes or whatever.”

I dried myself off, talked to the cops and went home. I googled the river walk history for myself a few days later. Of course there was indeed a woman who drowned there in the nineties and of course she was wearing a red t-shirt and jeans and of course when they finally pulled her out the cops said she was “smiling”. Apparently she’d killed herself there after finding out she was unable to have children. Her name, appropriately, was Envy Schwartz. I found two pictures of her. Of course they were of the same woman I saw under the dock.

And of course there had been three other drownings there between now and then. All kids. One of them nearly survived, a little girl who was pulled out because she clung to the underwater pillars, close enough to the surface to be reached. She told her rescuers with her blue lips that she’d heard a “nice lady who wanted to be her friend” calling her from the water and jumped in to play.

Needless to say, I closed my browser and took a moment to gather my bearings. The whole thing freaked me the fuck out, but there wasn’t anything I could do except move on. I’ve haven’t taken a walk there since.

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Welcome to Lit Up -The Land of Little Tales. Here you can read and submit short stories, flash fiction, poetry - in brief, your own legend. We're starting little. But that's how all big stories begin.

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Adrien Carver

Adrien Carver

Everything is a work in progress.

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